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Sacramental Considerations around Euthanasia or Assisted Suicide

As of June 17, 2016, death by assisted suicide and euthanasia has been made legal in Canada. This development does not change the fact that these practices are grievous affronts to the dignity of human life from beginning to natural end and are never morally justified.

However, in light of the new law, it is foreseeable that pastors will be approached for the Sacraments of Healing (Penance and the Anointing of the Sick) by, or on behalf of, persons who are contemplating having their lives ended by assisted suicide or euthanasia. Likewise to be expected are requests for the celebration of church funerals for persons who have been killed by these practices.

For our priests, this will present a new challenge in their ministry to the sick, the dying, and the bereaved. In order to assist them in working through these difficult situations, the Roman Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories have issued a set of detailed guidelines on sacramental ministry, dated September 14, 2016.

The guidelines detail the Church’s requirements for celebration of the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick and for funeral masses. They outline various situations in which the sacraments might be deferred or a funeral Mass denied. But even in these cases, the Bishops stress that there are many other ways that priests can and should share the presence of Christ with individuals and families during these difficult times, such as pastoral visits, Holy Communion, and prayers at the bedside, funeral home, or graveside.

Click on the link to read the full text of Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons and Families Considering or Opting for Death by Assisted Suicide or Euthanasia.

En français: Lignes directrices pour la célébration des sacrements avec les personnes et avec les familles considérant ou choisissant la mort par suicide assisté ou l’euthanasie